Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Dream Come True: Uncle Ralph Lives

I haven't been blogging everyday for November, but I have been working on a creative project (see above). It all started when we went to my sister-in-law's house for Halloween. Alicia and her husband Rick are unstoppably creative. For example, they have built a spook house in their basement that they keep up all year around and change every couple of months. It is outstanding and imaginative.

While we were at their house, the kids were watching a Rankin & Bass Halloween movie, Mad Monster Party. I watched a bit of it and was entranced, as usual, with the puppetry and animation. I wandered out on the enclosed porch with my brother-in-law, Rick. He was puffing on a pipe and I started telling him about how I've always wanted to make a stop-motion animation film.

"Why don't you?" he asked.

"Well, I'd need a script," I said.

He didn't say anything. We looked out over the foggy valley beyond the Rocky Fork Creek that runs in front  of their house. Then a thought occurred to me. I have a ton of material...all of the Uncle Ralph stuff I've written here! All of a sudden, the penny dropped and I suddenly knew how I could make it all happen. I also felt super-grateful for Rick's capacity for silence that gave me room to make this discovery. I moved away from all the obstacles and into the realm of the possible.

Doc and I started talking about it on the way home from their house. Then, we decided to make it happen. We are fortunate that we live in Speedy's old house. Speedy and his wife bought this house in the 50's when it was new and lived a very long and happy life together, if the love notes that are still taped to the inside of cupboard doors have anything to say about it. Speedy was a handy man and a shelf-builder extraordinaire. So, we had TONs of materials to start this project.

We began by building the set with a large piece of particle board...about 4x4. I had purchased a $30 circular saw and we angled the sides in slightly. Once that was built and suspended over two steel saw horses, Doc set the latter on top of it and climbed up into the rafters in our garage to pull down several pieces of paneling, press board and MDF that Speedy had stashed away for a rainy day. We also pulled down an ancient pair of wooden saw horses, who gave their life (and 2x4's) to support our walls.

After a few trips to Pat Catan's, or Pakistan's as my Grandma Jean used to call it, with Scotland (the Capn) and Elizabeth. We were ready to design and dress the set. And finish making Uncle Ralph, who is a drawing dummy under all that felt. I recorded Scotland doing the voice for Uncle Ralph.

The wallpaper and floor are contact paper. Doc made the wainscoting. Elizabeth covered the straw chair in felt and stuffing and doilies, and the kids decorated the tree.

We were nearly finished and ready to film, or so I thought. But Doc insisted that we build him a fireplace. I'm glad we did. It is a block of 2x4's glued together (another gift from Speedy). Doc cut out the fireplace part and painted it a shiny silver, selected from Speedy's vast collection of spray paint. 

Then we broke up a piece of Speedy's slate and hot glued the pieces to the front of the fireplace. Now we were ready.

It was Doc and me in the garage on a very cold night. We set the tripod and the camera. We watched  listened to short pieces of the video of Scotland and started filming. At first we tried to animate every single syllable. We were sure it would take us DAYS. We spent about three painstaking hours doing this. Doc would move the felt lips and the wooden arms and I would hold the camera in place and take the pictures. We thought we maybe had 10 seconds of material.

Then I loaded all the pictures into Movie Maker and the voice track. We set the pictures to .1 second duration and let her rip. We were confused to see that the images didn't exactly line up to the speech we thought we were animating. But we were pleasantly surprised by the fact that it didn't really matter. The movements matched the words, for the most part. And the unsteadiness of the camera gave it a Super 8 effect...totally the look I was going for. So after some careful cutting and pasting, we had a complete short film.

Now all we needed was the music. Doc and I went back and forth about what we should do. He suggested I play the piano. I wanted something better than that. So I convinced him to check out the royalty free music on iStock Photo. We found the perfect music: The First Flakes of Christmas. It was so earnest and heartfelt and very sweet, a nice counterpoint to Uncle Ralph's gruffness.

So last night, we finished up the editing and announced the birth of Uncle Ralph to Scotland and Elizabeth. They came over and we toasted our efforts and watched it together. It was a wonderful moment of the realization of a dream. Ever since Davy and Goliath and Rankin and Bass, I've always wanted to make a stop motion animation film. And since then, I've been blown away by Nick Park and Aardman Animations, who are responsible for Wallace and Grommet. I'm fascinated by the miniatures and the attention to detail on the sets.

I am so thankful to have the friends and family I have. Their creativity and willingness to pitch in humble me. And now I don't have to mail Christmas cards. Uncle Ralph will handle our message this year. So, watch the video and take the message to heart. Also, share the hell out of it, please.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Raging Red Bull Smoothie!!!

It was very tasty, but if I didn't already have a bad case of ADHD this morning, I do now!


Wednesday, November 09, 2011

F3 - Cycle 56 - Shields Up!

600 words of Sci-Fi for Friday Flash Fiction.

I calculated all the alternatives. None of them would let me get where I needed to go. I was going to have to batter through the asteroid belt to make it into the Dentari region in enough time. My cargo was small but huge in importance. And this jump was more problematic than a Centauri whore-dog during Intergalactic Chastity Month. 

It all started when I was given the launch sequence that would let me leave the space station. Some joker in HQ thought it would be funny to encode them first. And he didn't use any standard code. I couldn't find it in the empire's code databases, that's for sure. I had to go to the space station library, find an actual "book," and spend my last day of leave and most of my prep time solving the puzzle. That's OK. I got him back. He'll never look at a tube of anti-itch gravity cream in the same way again, I made sure of that. 

Once I was done fiddling around, I barely had time to cram all my gear into my shuttle duffle and kiss my cat goodbye. I ran from sector 17, through the dread zone, past the barber shop and into shuttle bay 7, where I got chewed a new one by Sarge Benson for being late. Fortunately, I'm a gifted pilot and my interns fall all over each other to get things set up before any mission I go on. One aw shucks and a country boy smile and I was off the hook. I made a quick sweep of the panels as I plopped into the driver's seat. Everything seemed fine. 

But I failed to notice the tiniest of mistakes. My outstanding interns didn't factor the subspace variable out far enough and caused my jump to land me here and not on the other side. 

So here I am, my artificial navigator cowering under the sub-engines while I prepare myself for the ride of my life. I had some idea of what I was getting myself into. My buddies and I took turns showing off at the arcade playing Asteroid Belt, which was basically a simulation of what I was about to encounter. 

"Alright, Arty" I said to my chicken-shit navigation computer, "Shields up!"

My shuttle shuddered as the force field unraveled itself outward from the nose cone. I cranked up the view screen and engaged the rock anthem music algorithm. I took a quick scan with the front sensors and set the weapons array up so that it would spread neon green static light particles over all the rocks in my path. It was all routine, really. 

"Speed factor seven," I commanded, "Let's go!"

My field of vision lit up with green lumps that turned into tubes. I felt the impact of the smaller rocks that bounced off my shields as I maneuvered my way around the big boys. Every now and then, I'd see the shields shimmer and weaken; they were taking a pummeling and there was nothing I could do but keep pressing forward. 

"We make it through this, Arty," I said, hanging on tight, "I'll buy you a backbone." 

We crossed in two hours, record time, and I delivered the package to the Dentari chief ahead of schedule.

“Well, Arty,” I said, hopping back into my craft, “Want to see if we can beat our score?”

I think he passed out. And I laughed my way all the way back to another medal and a new crop of interns. 

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Oh, God! I'm Bored! - Tuesday Haiku

Moira and Riley

I know exactly what I have to do today. But I don't wanna. 

Haiku for Tuesday
Tuesday is trash night.
So, out with last week's garbage
Empty cans, clean slate.

Monday, November 07, 2011

I'm Daylight Saving Time's Bee-Eye-Tea-See-Aitch

I love setting the clocks back an hour. It's a dream come true. I woke up at seven o'clock yesterday morning like it was the right thing to do. I'm sure after a couple of days, seven o'clock will feel too early again. But it's nice to feel like an early bird for once.

Plus, I got a bunch done yesterday. And took second place in our weekly poker match.

I wish we could set the clocks back one hour every other week. Then I'd probably feel normal most of the time.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Wish Me Luck

I've decided that, in lieu of Christmas cards, I'd send my peeps a video short this year. And it's not just any short, it's going to be a stop-motion animation featuring none other than our Uncle Ralph.

Ever since Davy & Goliath and Rankin & Bass, I've had a fascination with this medium. And then Wallace and Grommet came along and took it to a whole new level. I've always wanted to watch the makers put these strike that: I wanted to do one myself.

I was musing about this to my brother-in-law, Rick, over Halloween weekend. He's the right person to muse to, let me tell you. He and his wife have built a haunted house in their basement. He makes wooden toys and stilts. She makes costumes and their kids are all stilt walkers and jugglers. But Rick's got a certain quietness to him that allows room in conversations. And in this space, I told him that I wanted to make a stop motion animation short. He said that it was doable. And I said, "but I need a script..." He puffed on his pipe in response. I felt a little bit sunken...didn't want to face dreaming up a short script with one or two characters who didn't move much..."UNCLE RALPH," I exclaimed.

I started telling Rick about Uncle Ralph and we bounced ideas around. Needless to say, I am now inspired.

So far, I've made an Uncle Ralph figure and Doc has built the framework for the set. I'm hoping that the Cap'n will be able to provide the voice and that Spooky will help me do the set decorations.

The only thing in my way is momentum, of course. But it's nothing some Red Bull, an inspirational speech, and promise of pizza couldn't defeat handily. So wish me and my team luck. And look for this short coming soon.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Blimey! Can I waste time, or what!

I'm trying to figure out what happened to two hours today. I can't account for them. Maybe I was:

  • In Rivendale, trying to sort out some business with a ring
  • Abducted by faeries and forced to listen to ballads and drink faerie wine
  • On board an alien ship trying to explain the difference between American Idol and X Factor
  • Sucked into the Bermuda Triangle
  • Given the opportunity to go on a trip to Paris that I wasn't allowed to remember ever
  • Under the influence of a sleeping draught while someone drank a polyjuice potion to turn into me and do some mischief

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Lyrics I Don't Understand: Sometimes When We Touch

And sometimes when we touch
The honesty's too much
And I have to close my eyes and hide...

--Dan Hill

  • Can someone please explain what it means when the honesty's too much? Too much what? Also, why must he hide? I don't get it. 
  • Does anyone have a copy of the cliff's notes for this?
  • Please help me. This makes me crazy. 
  • Do I just not get love in the 70's?
  • Am I missing some sort of passion/complexity gene?
  • Are my relationships just not meaningful enough?
Perhaps, I'm over thinking this. 

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Wednesday Haiku

It's nice to be done
Mostly with the week, Wednesday
It's all down hill now.

Edited to add: Haiku for a Bad Day

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Hair Metal Soliloquy: Hence I Journey Anon

From White Snake, Here I Go Again

I know not to where I go, but I knoweth certainly whence I've been
I graspesth on the promises in the ballads of yore
And in my mind's eye, I am certain
I waste time no more
Hence I journey anon, hence I journey anon.

Though I searcheth for an answer
I find and not find that for which I seeketh
Oh Lord, prithee, give me strength to carry forth
For I fathom what thou meanest
To abide along the lonely road of dreams

Hence I journey anon unaided
Wayfaring the only road of which I've henceforth had knowledge
As a vagabond, I was brought forth to walk alone
It is decided
I waste time no more

I be another heart requiring salvage
Waiting on love's sweet charity
And I shall grippeth tight for the rest of my days
For I fathom what thou meanest
To abide along the lonely road of dreams

Hence I journey anon unaided
Wayfaring the only road of which I've henceforth had knowledge
As a vagabond, I was brought forth to walk alone
It is decided
I waste time no more

But hence I journey anon, hence I journey anon...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

F3 - Cycle 44 - The Fee

Prompt: A story about unrest.
Genre: Open
Word Count: 1500 words (or fewer).
Deadline: Thursday August 18th 2011 8:30 PM EST

Posted for Flash Fiction Friday

Part 3: The Lone School Marm and the Art of War
Part 4: Poker Face
Part 6: A Day Late and a Dollar Short

"Now git in there and don't cause any more trouble!" Elroy McCrane yelled as he shoved Susannah down the stairs and into the cellar of the Old Tin Cup. "We'll take care of you later, if the fall don't kill ya!" he laughed as he slammed the door and locked it.

Susannah had been caught by Elroy, one of the Dirty Boys gang, when she was so close to Dirty Dan, she could taste the oil in his hair. Dirty Dan was playing poker at the Old Tin Cup and Susannah was posing as a barmaid. Jeb Riley had tipped her off about the game when he found out about Dirty Dan's aspirations to poker greatness.

The game was supposed to be top secret. But the owner of the Tin Cup had lost his mother to the gang and they had taken his young daughter and wife during one of their many waves of terror. He was forced to host this game but he knew Susannah was coming and let her in through the window when he went to get more whiskey from the storage room.

Suzannah had melted in with the other ladies of the evening and edged closer to the main table. She gripped the handle of her knife with the point of it angled toward her elbow along the inside of her wrist. She was going to sidle up to him, drape herself on his shoulder and then pull the knife across his hateful neck. But what light there was in the poker room had bounced off the polished blade and caught Elroy's eye. Fortunately, no one recognized her as the Susannah, who had been causing so much trouble for the Dirty Boys gang for months. She would have been killed on the spot for sure.

Ever since partnering with Jeb and coordinating George Shaw's access, the Chief's stealthy warriors, and her  money, Susannah had been systematically chipping away at the Dirty Boys' sphere of influence. Not that this was saying much; the gang had become so bold that they operated out in the open now. Most of the sheriffs in these parts were Dirty Dan's men. And they started enforcing his laws. Women over 18 years of age were to be kept indoors and out of sight unless they wanted to be shot. Schools were shut down. Boys were recruited for his gang. Children were taken. Men were forced into hard labor and those who opposed were hanged.

"Ow!" a voice shouted in the darkness as Susannah landed hard at the foot of the stairs.

Susannah froze and opened her senses. She could feel someone's leg beneath her and smelled something familiar...a strange blend of chamomile and sulfur.

"Doc?" Susannah whispered.

"Susannah? Is that you?"

"It is," Susannah said. For the first time in months, tears began to form at the corners of her eyes.

"Well, bless my soul..." his voice quivered.

"I owe you an apology, Doc," Susannah spoke softly, "I told you I wouldn't leave home and chase after the gang, but I did. I'm truly sorry for breaking my word."

"No, Susannah," Doc said, "I should'a recognized that look on your face, that air you had. I've seen it before, you don't get to be this old without seeing the wrath of God at least once or twice being borne out by a person. I should never have told you to stay."

"Why are you here, Doc?"

"Well sister, Dirty Dan didn't take too kindly to me refusing to treat his right hand man's right arm. The scoundrel ended up bleeding to death. I'm to be hanged in the morning."

"I can only imagine what's in store for me now," Susannah sighed.

"It seems to me that neither one of us has a thing to lose," Doc pondered, "I think that makes us dangerous, don't you?"

"What are you proposing, Doc?"

"I know where there's a trap door into the store room," He revealed, "I also know where a group of sympathetic and angry men can be found. I say, let's get out of here, get them, come back and burn this place to the ground."

"The Chief and his men are not far away either," Susannah added, "I'm game if you are, Doc."

"We'd best hurry," Doc said, standing up, "The whims of the criminal mind change quickly; we must return in haste, lest they disappear from here and go on some other fool's errand."

Susannah got to her feet and felt for Doc's hand. He led the way, feeling for obstacles.

"I'd light a match or something, but I fear we'd blow the place up prematurely," he warned, "I can smell the gunpowder down here, can't you?"

"Yes, sir," Susannah replied.

"Now if I remember correctly," Doc whispered, "The store room is about 25 paces straight back from the we just need to find the ladder and we'll be on our way."

They made their way slowly among the crates and cartons. They tried not to call out when barking a shin here and stubbing a toe there. They were both sweating from the exertion and fear of marching through the dark to overcome their recent fate.

"Ah," Doc breathed, "Here we are."

He pulled her hand toward the ladder and she gripped it. She began to climb silently up the rungs and when she reached the top, she pressed on the panel. It gave and she lifted it slightly, checking to see if anyone was in there. The room was still and lit with moonlight. She lifted the hatch the rest of the way and climbed up. When she pulled herself onto the floor, she turned back toward the opening and signaled to Doc that all was clear.

"You go on," he said. "Leave the window open and I'll come out after you. Make sure you get well clear of the building. I'll meet you at Doc Harmon's place. We don't want to draw attention to ourselves."

Susannah nodded and closed the panel. She moved toward the window and pulled it open. The air was still and the locusts' song throbbed around her. She looked up and down the main street and didn't see anyone. So she gathered her skirts and hoisted herself up and over the window sill.

Her landing was soft and she quickly found her footing and began to run silently toward Doc Harmon's, the hawk trailing her.

O, Warrior Mother, she called out in her mind, I have done everything you have asked. Help me bring an end to this bloodshed by spilling the blood of Dirty Dan. Protect Doc Shaw and see us safely out of this...

Her prayer was interrupted by a blast and a burst of light. Susannah stopped and wheeled around toward the Old Tin Cup, which had burst into amber flames and black smoke. She fell to her knees and began to weep. Men came running out, entombed in flames; the lucky ones found troughs of water nearby and extinguished the fire. Before long, the Old Tin Cup collapsed in on itself, windows bursting and black, acrid smoke belching outward.

She guessed rightly that old Doc Shaw had sacrificed himself and ignited the powder kegs, taking the opportunity to strike at Dirty Dan. And Mother Warrior took her fee, that was for sure. Blood had been shed and Dirty Dan was done, but at a huge cost. Susannah's heart broke a little bit more, which surprised her; she had no idea there was anything left of it.


She looked up and saw Doc's spirit approach her. She was stunned.

Susannah...I'm sorry to leave you like this; I know I told you I'd follow you, and I broke my word. For that I'm truly sorry. I suppose this makes us even now, heh. Don't you waste your time crying over me. I chose my end and I'm satisfied. Now go and finish this. I'll be seeing you...

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

F3 - Cycle 42 - A Day Late and A Dollar Short

Posted for Flash Fiction Friday

Prompt: The aftermath of being late. Late. Late!
Genre: Open
Word Count: 1000 words
Deadline: Friday, August 5, 2011, 9 am EST

This is part 5 and here are the others...

Part 3: The Lone School Marm and the Art of War
Part 4: Poker Face

"I left that night in pursuit of Dirty Dan and his gang," Susannah explained, "I knew the posse'd be chasin' them through the woods with dogs and such, but I was too late for that. So I hopped on Chance and started toward Two Forks. They've got a respectable Sheriff there, who I thought might have information about the Dirty Boys gang. I wanted to dig that weed out at the root."

"Well?" Jeb asked, "How'd that turn out?" Jeb and Susannah were sitting in old rocking chairs on the porch of his homestead, watching the stars as wind crossed the prairie and made dark waves in the grass. 

"Sheriff Stanley was some help," she said, "He did provide me with a list of crimes they couldn't pin on Dirty Dan. I've been moving from town to town, sheriff to sheriff coming up with nothing but lists. I'd heard stories about the posse and how they couldn't find the criminals nor the missing Hailey twins," she winced slightly at this admission.

"George Shaw and the Chief are tracking them now," she continued, "But they keep missing the gang somehow...showing up moments before they hopped on a train or hours after they broke camp." 

"Huh," Jeb responded, "That's damned inconvenient." 

"Yes, sir," she nodded. "The gang's got help in high places and they've got the locals terrified."

"So it would seem," Jeb said. 

"Anyway, I've spent my long evenings studying these lists and all these crimes had something in common: They all happened in the afternoon and women and children were the victims. Also, it seemed like the gang knew when extra money was going to be they could sniff it in the wind. All the victims had recently gained access to piles of money."

"Hmm..." Jeb replied. "I wonder how they knew that?"

"Well, I can't tell you that, sir," Susannah said, "But I'm beginning to wonder if some banker isn't involved in all this, someone who knows about these kinds of things and can tip off the gang." 

She let that float into the evening. It was the crucial piece of information that she wanted to bring to Jeb Riley, a man of influence and one of the few who could stand on his own against most authority and did so regularly. He had enough money and power to be heard, anyway, which is more than she could muster. She wanted to give him a chance to think.

Susannah had said her piece. At least he listened. Of course, she'd had to trick him into thinking she was a man and prove herself in a card game first. She could've called on  Mother Warrior to help her again, but that tended to give people the impression that she was some kind of witch. Plus, Mother Warrior had a price when you call on her that left Susannah weak and sad afterwards. 

But it was a nice night and she could use a breather. Jeb Riley had just won a bunch of money at cards and had a snoot full of brandy; she suspected it was likely that he'd agree to throw his weight around for her cause. Susannah looked up at the sky and watched the hawk circle her. She was used to him by now; he was always nearby as a constant reminder of her quest. 

This evening had been a welcome respite from hunting. Her eyes were tired from searching and her mind ached from trying to put all the pieces together. And her heart burned with a mixture of righteous anger and holy terror. Tonight was a night of fellowship, really. The card table always bonds people, if they sit together long enough. 

If only she didn't feel so far behind...grasping at straws and always arriving a moment too late. Dirty Dan was bound to make a mistake; he's only a man, not an actual monster. He'll trust the wrong person or tip his hand. It's the only hope she had, until tonight.

"Well, Miss Susannah," Jeb spoke.

"Yes, sir?" She asked, looking at his face, into his eyes. 

"I think I can help you."

"I think you can too, sir."

"Heh," he chuckled, "You got guts, girl; let's just hope your mind is built of the same material and this ain't some wild goose chase."

"Thank you, Mr. Riley," she said.

"Call me Jeb," he replied as he stood up. "C'mon inside, sister. I reckon we've got a lot of planning to do."

Thursday, July 14, 2011

F3 - Cycle 39 - Poker Face

Prompt: Title Prompt – Write a story involving playing cards and using these words: Ante, Drag, Bluff, Busted, Blind
Genre: Open
Word Count: Up to 1300 words
Deadline: Thursday, July 14, 2011 4:30 pm EST

Submitted for Friday Flash Fiction

This is Part 4. Here are the first three parts, if you would like to read them
Part 3: The Lone School Marm and the Art of War

"Ok, gentlemen," The Dealer said, "Ante up." 

It was the usual crowd at the Old Tin Cup on a dusty Friday night, with one exception. A slight and mostly silent man had joined the game this time. He was dusty and had a weary posture. The brim of his brown, leather stetson was pulled down, covering his eyes and shadowing his face. 

So far, he'd played a pretty tight game, calling here and there, and never raising the bets as they traveled around the old pine table. This was fine with the Dealer, who was no stranger to trouble from outsiders but certainly didn't care for it. 

This old gang had a certain rhythm to their game and strangers never seemed to sense it when they sat down to play. They just bumbled in and mistakenly thought the best way to join the group was to show off and prove that they had the chops to play with the big boys. They had no sense of grace about them, always splashing their money in the pot, calling blind, and assuming that because the gang was old, they were also soft or stupid. This stranger was different though...steady and calm.

There were plenty of years behind these good old boys, some good, some bad. But they came through it all together and ended up with a respect for each other that made them close-knit and powerful. And the Dealer had been with them all along, was one of them really. He never liked gambling, though, despite his love for the game of poker. But his years of dealing had given him certain insights into all of them, and they knew it. Away from the table, he was considered neutral and the fellows often consulted him when they had disputes. He also represented the gang when they had common interests that needed worked out with others. The Dealer could not be bluffed. 

"Raise," a quiet voice said, which pulled the Dealer out of his thoughts. "Thirty dollars."

Jeb whistled and said, "That's a pretty steep bet there, stranger."

"You gonna call?" the Dealer asked, nonplussed.

"Heh," Jeb said, "Well, it's only money...Call."

Jeb always said this when he had a good hand, the Dealer knew, but didn't let his face reveal it. The rest of the folks at table fell out of the hand and fixed their eyes on the stranger, waiting to see what his game was. He'd have to show his cards now. 

"Well," Jeb said, "Whatcha got?"

The stranger turned over his cards and said, "Ten-high flush." 

"Oh, well," Jeb said, "I guess that won't beat my full house...Aces over tens." 

He chuckled as he dragged the pot towards him and started to stack his winnings. "You got to get up pretty early in the morning to catch me, stranger."

"Oh, I get up early every morning," the stranger revealed. 

"I 'spect you get the worm then, most times, don'tcha?" Jeb replied.

"Nope," the stranger said, "That worm keeps slipping away from me. It's getting to the point now when I think I'd better give up sleeping and spend all my time chasing that worm." 

"What's your name, son?" Jeb asked, curious. 

"Susannah," the stranger replied.

"Funny name for a fellah," Jeb said.

"Ain't a fellah, sir," she said.

Jeb leaned in towards her and started to tip Susannah's brim back to see her face.

She stayed his hand and said, "I'd rather you didn't do that here." 

Jeb sat back in his chair, his mouth hanging open. She did tip her hat up quickly so that for a moment the shadows fell away and the gang could see her feminine features. She pulled the brim down and settled back into a favorite pose of her fathers: Legs outstretched, leaning back with her hands crossed at her waist.

"So, are we going to play cards or sit here catching flies," the Dealer said, amused by the fact that every member of the gang now had their jaws hanging loose. "Ante up, gentlemen." 

This certainly was an interesting woman who had managed to get into the Tin Cup and join this table, and past the Dealer's bullshit detector. He shuffled the cards as he mused. It's been a long time since anyone anywhere had been able to bluff him. He wanted to know more about her but respected the table, the game, and her skill too much to fuss here. Still, her worm hunting story interested him very much and wondered what could survive standing in this woman's way. He dealt the hand. 

The game continued for another hour or so before the group decided to call it a night. The Dealer knew they were all going home a bit richer this night, Susannah having kept up with the game, calling except when it was time to show her cards. She never raised or stayed in to the end of the hand for the rest of the night. He suspected she did this on purpose, to put the old boys in a good mood.

"Well, boys," Jeb said, patting his vest pocket stuffed with his winnings, "Let's retire to my place for an after game drink and cigars."

The gang grumbled cheerfully at the thought as they stood and stretched, happy with victory. The Dealer packed up his cards and kept one eye on Susannah.

"Come on, son," Jeb said and winked, "I'd like to hear how you got to be such a smart player."

He put his arm around Susannah and led her out of the saloon. 

Thursday, July 07, 2011

F3 - Cycle 38 - Rage Diary

Submitted for Friday Flash Fiction

Prompt: Write a story involving madness in whatever form appeals to you.
Genre: Open
Word Count: 1200 words.
Deadline: Thursday, July 7th, 6 pm EST.


Dear Diary,

I know they don't mean to get in my way. How could they possibly understand? They belong to the realm of the bottom feeders; they should take what's given to them, nothing more! But can't they see? I need to pass through untouched. And I cannot bear their proximity or their scent. It used to be that the bottom feeders knew their place and separated themselves out. They had an inborn courtesy toward their betters.

You know what I'm about to say, now, don't you Dear Diary? It's time again to make permanent the reminder that they are bottom feeders. I know you fret when I talk like this, but I'm sorry! It must be done.

Think about the smell of them. Oh, I just gag to do it, but you must know. First it's their sweat. It's dark with a pungency redolent of their low nature. Dirt, poverty, onions, garlic, subatomic lowliness. I can see it waft off of them in stale brown waves. Don't give me that look, Dear Diary, I do see it. I am sensitive to the supernatural and you know it.

I can smell their hair. The cheap shampoo that only masks the oily funk rolling from their scalps. A combination of "seaside breezes" and crude oil. Their efforts at cleanliness are an open mockery of God. Who do they think they are kidding?

And don't even prompt me to reveal what I know about their sex. I shiver at the thought. Shame on you, dirty Dear Diary! Do not lead me further into torment!

The way they move, trying to stand upright and confident, like they have as much right to be here as I do. There is a hierarchy. There always will be a hierarchy. Their confidence is an affront to my superiority and their disrespect for the natural order of things. No amount of friendly teeth-baring will even us out.

It is time, Dear Diary, for the ritual. I will gather the ingredients and focus my holy power. God has told me it is time to do this. That is why I am so sure. What would you know anyway; you're just a book. It is time to enter the sacred armory and apothecary and combine steel and poison to scare the ever-living fuck out of these "people."

So, hold me in your heart Dear Diary. I will tell you all about it when it's done. And you will be pleased; order will be restored and I will be happy again.

Monday, June 13, 2011

What I Will Do For Music

Recently I remembered that I am a musician, and more specifically, a singer. I may not have the best or most powerful voice, but I can carry a tune. I prefer to sing with other people because of a vestigial childhood shyness that I haven't completely conquered yet. I've been in and out of choirs for the past 15 years or so searching for the right place, with little luck.

My main frustration with being in choirs is that you rehearse and rehearse and then you perform for maybe 20% of a religious service. The rest of the time is gobbled up by the ritual of the lesson, reading, and mundane announcements. These aren't bad things, really. I'm just not interested. I want more of that magic of producing music with others. That's what fills my cup. The lesson is nice, I guess, and the sermon could go either way. But the music did it for me, spiritually speaking.

And getting my family to go to church has been a lesson in futility. The kids don't want to go and Doc's schedule usually prevents him from going. Our hearts aren't in it. Plus, Sundays are made for looking inward and getting the house in order. And poker.

In the meantime, I started getting together regularly with people from work to play Rock Band, which is fun and a quick and easy way to get to that camaraderie. I get a lot of joy from this and I'm pretty sure that my colleagues do too. It's a good time and we have bonded over it. I know that it's helped us build bridges with each other and work is easier because of it.

I did join a choir of three at a UU church, which was a unique experience but didn't have the manpower to get off the ground. Also, I felt stifled by the PC approach to every. single. fucking. thing. It was so rigid for an organization that espoused tolerance. But we had some moments and I met some great people, to whom I am still connected. But it was still not enough.

Elizabeth knows me well. We met in 1989 and have been steady friends ever since. She knows this stuff about me already. Because of my need to produce music, she doggedly kept setting "Kirtan" in front of me. It's a kind of call and response chanting that originated in India. It seemed strange and foreign (it is) and surrounded by people who seem fanatically devoted to the practice. I was skeptical...

But I trust her, so I decided to join her for a regular monthly Kirtan session in the art gallery in downtown Canton. It was Elizabeth, the Cap'n, me and a very nice person named Brenda. We were led by Su, who played guitar and harmonium. She led us in some chants and a meditation. But the point is that 80% of this was singing. And I felt open afterwards. Like the bouncers around my heart finally uncrossed their arms and opened the ropes to let me in, out.

I was very sensitive for several days afterwards and my intuition was working overtime; I was making very certain predictions about the future that were coming true. Nothing major, but I knew where certain mundane things were headed and I trusted that intuition. It paid off for me. I had removed the obstacles between my instincts and my decision-making. After all, I am 40 years old; there should be some things that I should just know.

Since then I've been to two more kirtan things: Once more with Su and another at a local holistic center. I believe the little gathering with Su is something super special and nothing will be able to compete with the way that goes. The other one was supposed to be bigger and the more the merrier, I've been told. This one wasn't as big as they expected; the local blues festival was competing with it and won.

I'm not sure I got the most out of it because of exterior interference (my phone rang, my pants were uncomfortable, the leader was a dude who seemed at times to be very sexual, which made me uncomfortable). But still, when I left, I felt good...filled, the heart bouncers at rest again.

And I realized that I don't think I'll be able to live without it in my life. And that is good but it comes with some challenges. I figure that I'll have to hitch my wagon to some people who tend to approach the world with a hippier than though approach. The kind of people who refer to themselves as "enlightened" or "evolved." I may befriend these people who may be annoyed by my glib attitude to this sort of thing.

I will also have to keep fighting back the image of the hare krishnas in Airplane! and Hair with their glazed over eyes and aggressive cheerfulness, praying that that won't be me in six months. Especially since I personally feel that I could join a kirtan that lasted for days and not care a bit that days had gone by.

Despite what complications my staunch squareness verses their infuriating dudeness may cause, when the "Om's" start, we are all one in music anyway. So, what the hey...I'm coming out of the closet.

And if you see me in an airport someday, please don't punch me in the face.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Je Ne Regret Rein!

My pal G-Reg from work shared this neato blog with me. It contains "Inspiring Apologizes From Today's World Wide Web."

I thought you'd enjoy reading it...

Thursday, May 19, 2011

F3 - Cycle 31 - The Lone School Marm and the Art of War

Prompt: Write a story of a negotiation and have your characters use at least two tactics
I've used a Plant and an Expert in my story.Genre: Any
Word Count: 1000 words
Deadline: Thursday, May 19th, 2011, 4:30 pm EST

This is part 3 in a series. I think it stands on its own, but here are the first two parts, if you'd like to read them.
Part 1: The Lone School Marm
Part 2: The Lone School Marm Speaks

"We meet again," George said. 

"Indeed," Big Horse replied. "Come, join me in the home of my fathers."

Big Horse opened the flap of the tepee and stood aside so George could duck through the door. George paused before entering and looked at Big Horse for a moment. It was unlike him to be so formal. As he turned and entered the enclosed space, he expected to see the usual trappings of their annual negotiations: hot food, whiskey, tobacco, a warm fire and soft furs and skins to lounge on as they whiled away the hours discussing the fine points of boundaries and water rights.

Instead, his eyes found the steel blue eyes of a young woman, who returned his gaze with defiance and grief. He was stunned silent by her presence, his mouth agape. She held him in her power, which was amplified by the swirling smoke, sparks and an aroma of burnt sage and roasting meat. 

Big Horse tapped him on the shoulder and pointed to George's usual spot. George moved slowly to his place at the fire and dropped into his seat. He continued to examine the strange woman. 

"Big Horse..." George started to say.

"No," Big Horse replied. "No questions right now. No negotiations. The spirit world demands our attention." 

"The spirit world?" George replied, stunned. "Since when do you care about the spirit world?!?"

"I've always cared," Big Horse said. 

"Huh," George grunted, "Could'a fooled me."

"This is Susannah," Big Horse explained.

"Hello, Susannah," George replied, "I'm George Shaw."

"Mr. Shaw," she clipped and nodded her head slightly. "You're Doc Shaw's youngest brother, aren't you?"

"Dr. Charles Shaw?" George asked. "Yes, ma'am, he's my brother."

Susannah exhaled slowly. She looked at Big Horse and nodded slightly.

"George," Big Horse began, "The spirits have spoken to me in my dreams. It is time for war, as it was foretold to me during our negotiations last year." 

"War!" George shouted, "Are you crazy, Big Horse? You can't go to war!"

"Yes, I can," Big Horse replied. "And I will, with your help or without. Preferably with it."

"Since when did you put any stock in spirits and dreams?" George pressed. "After all these years we've bickered back and forth over technicalities. You've always been the one to be reasonable. I've never heard you talk about the spirit world unless it was an Indian holiday."

"It's true, old friend," Big Horse sighed. "I haven't been impressed with what our shaman has been trying to drill into my head for thirty years. I prefer to put my faith in what I can see and touch and talk to. Contracts, boundaries, goods and services...these things will guarantee our success as a tribe and as part of a new nation."

"That's right," George said, "You and I have worked towards that for ten years now. And you're saying suddenly that the spirits have moved you to war? I don't understand..." George drifted and turned to look at Susannah again. 

"Susannah is a harbinger," Big Horse explained.

"A what?" George replied.

"A harbinger...her arrival here confirms my vision is true. Her story completes our story."

George looked back to Susannah. "I'm waiting."

Big Horse began...

Last summer when we parted, I packed up a bedroll and some spiritual items to make remake my vision quest, as I have done every year since I was twelve. Every year, nothing happens. I camp, I enjoy the wilderness and the silence. My heart calms and I'm able to return to the business of our tribe's interests. But no vision. As you have pointed out, I am pragmatic and not bent by hokus pokus. I do not let intangibles govern my movements.  

But this time was different. As I prepared the herbs and said the prayers. I inhaled, I exhaled. The great stillness returned to me and I began to relax after a wearing week with you. As I sat perched on my rock, I was visited by Mother Warrior. She stood before me and shook her spear and shield at me. She called out and the Thunderbird swooped down on me and struck my heart with lightning. I was being called to a quest, George. Mothers are angry as men stand by and talk. The blood of children spills on our territory and yours. Warrior Mother won't stand for it and will not leave me alone. She cursed me until I do something about it. Ever since then, I could not get the song "Oh, Susannah" out of my head...until, that is, Susannah showed up yesterday morning. 

"Mr. Shaw," Susannah said. "We need your help.I have been tracking Dirty Dan's gang ever since they murdered most of my students at the old Prairie Schoolhouse. The closer I got to them, the more I began to understand that they aren't just a band of mavericks. They're one band of many bands of mavericks, loosely held together, but working together nonetheless. Working together to destroy our way of life...Big Horse's way of life. They want money, dominance, and flesh. It's time that men of consequence stand up and take action, lest all the women and children here are killed or enslaved and the men recruited forced into hard labor."

"Now, I remember you," George remarked. "My brother wrote to me about you, said you were on the run and dangerous."

"I am both of these things," Susannah admitted. "But I am also a warrior and spiritual mother to a graveyard full of innocent children. Which danger scares you more, George Shaw?"

"But war...we just got done with one!" George moaned, as he ran his hands through his hair. "It nearly broke us."

"It's not much, sir," Susannah said as she reached behind herself, "But it's enough to pull something together, don't you think?"

She opened a satchel George remembered. It was his brother's satchel that their father had given him when he started his practice. It was also stuffed to overflowing with paper money and gold. More than George had ever seen at one time. 

He looked at her again and his vision shifted. She was glowing gold and red. Her eyes boiled and she seemed to be ten feet tall. Tears began to stream as he felt her pain pour out of her soul and into him. She was anointed by vengeance, it was undeniable. And what was another war, anyway. At least this time there was money and it was summer. 

"War it is, Susannah." George replied. 

Big Horse nodded and began to pray.